The United States has found itself gripped by political polarization that has undermined the development of public policy and discourse. The identities of politicians and citizens alike have grown entwined with political ideologies. The strong emotions that accompany personal identity can be difficult to reconcile, and the adversarial nature of contemporary policy creation only emphasizes ideological divides. Pundits, politicians, and scholars have endorsed the use of mediation to help lawmakers reach across the aisle. In fact, some states have already implemented programs to resolve policy disputes. Early experiments with mediation can provide insight as to how stakeholders can be selected, who should serve as mediators, and whether policy dispute resolution programs are anti-democratic. A holistic review of contemporary public policy development reveals that there is a space for neutrals to help oppositional sides reconcile.
There is no question that Americans treat their political beliefs among their core values. Research has shown that “Americans increasingly treat their policy views as constitutive of their identities.” The rise of identity politics has created fissures in all levels of public discourse and government. Conflicts over identity politics “threaten a group’s basic sense of security” causing the groups to “fail to respond to traditional negotiation techniques.” It does not help that contemporary policy creation occurs in an adversarial sphere. Modern policy development follows a Brown v. Board of Education model, in which opposing parties resolve disputes through the justice system. Disputes in the justice system typically result in zero sum, binary decisions.